Chief Judge Jennifer A. Mazzuchi was first elected to the Marquette County Circuit Court in 2008. After working for three years at a medical malpractice firm in metro Detroit, she returned to her hometown to work as a prosecutor for 12 years before taking the bench. Judge Mazzuchi currently handles criminal and family cases.
What advice do you have for attorneys navigating the new discovery rules going into effect on January 1, 2020?
For all new developments in the law, I recommend starting by reading the rules. I would also recommend reading the Civil Discovery Guidebook on the new discovery rules, which I just received from the State Bar.
For attorneys who have never been to your court, what is your check-in process?
Our courthouse is beautiful, but it can be difficult to find your way around sometimes. It is perfectly acceptable, therefore, to simply wait in my courtroom until your case is called. Attorneys are also welcome to check in with my staff in chambers.
What sort of arguments in a brief do you find compelling?
In both a brief and in oral argument, I find it most compelling if attorneys acknowledge weaknesses in the case right away. I prefer they focus on the issues in dispute and on their strongest arguments. This builds credibility and saves time, both of which I value.
Should proposed orders be submitted to the clerk before argument? Do you expect orders to be drafted in court, and, if so, are there computers for drafting them?
I do not expect orders to be submitted before argument or to be drafted in court, but attorneys may attach a proposed order to their motion. After the hearing, I generally identify which attorney should draft the order. Attorneys can either submit a stipulated order or submit an order under the seven-day rule.
How should judge's copies of motions be submitted?
Judge’s copies can be dropped off at my chambers or emailed. If the motion and attachments are lengthy, however, I prefer to receive a hard copy as opposed to an electronic copy.
How should stipulated orders be submitted?
Stipulated orders can be submitted to chambers. I honor most stipulations but may not grant, for instance, an adjournment in a case that has been pending a long time.
What procedural issues or disputes should be worked out between the parties before involving you?
If an attorney plans to display an electronic exhibit in the courtroom, it is important to get familiar with our recording system before the hearing. The bailiff can help an attorney who contacts him in advance. At times I conduct hearings without other court personnel in the courtroom, so it is important for the attorneys to be conscious of and prepared for these types of technical issues. If an attorney is soft spoken, he or she may be required to remain near a microphone.
It is always in your client’s best interests to try to resolve as many issues as possible before a hearing. I think it is important to stress that settlement should not be seen as a sign of weakness. In fact, it is generally in a client’s best interests to explore all options before spending the time and money on a contested hearing or trial. Generally the attorneys know the parties and the details of the case better than I do, so if they can resolve an issue in a way that is satisfactory to the parties, it is often the best outcome for both.
What types of pretrial conferences do you hold, and what happens at them?
In a pretrial conference for civil cases, I usually explore prospects for early ADR, set initial deadlines, and then leave the parties to conduct discovery on their own before a final pretrial conference, at which I will set a trial date. In criminal cases, we have an initial pretrial and then a final pretrial conference if an agreement is not reached on a plea. In family law cases, I generally have a scheduling conference to set dates, including the trial date, and I almost always refer the parties for mediation or settlement conference. Early in divorce cases, the Friend of the Court conducts conciliation conferences to try to help parents reach a temporary agreement on child custody, support, and parenting time. If the parents cannot reach agreement, the Friend of the Court will make a recommendation. The parties may also file motions at any time.
Any common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom?
Being late is my chief complaint. It starts things out on a bad note. I make a concerted effort to run the court on time. I understand if you are appearing in different courts on the same day, maybe even in different counties. Just let us know. You can ask for your case to be called early or later in the docket if you need to be in another court later or expect to be running late. We will try to accommodate those requests.
Another common mistake lawyers make is not looking at what the actual rule says. I am not going to find your position credible if it is clear to me you have not taken the time to read the rule or statute. That should always be your starting point in any case.
What do you think is the most commonly misinterpreted court rule or rule of evidence?
The evidence rules pertaining to prior inconsistent statements are commonly misunderstood. I read the rules before every trial when I know inconsistent statements might be an issue. For all evidentiary issues, reading the rules and anticipating objections before an evidentiary hearing is critical. Clearly articulate the objection and the grounds for the objection. If you take the time to anticipate objections you may make or that the other side may make, you can have the rules tabbed and be prepared with the grounds and citations. It is going to save time, establish your credibility, and increase the persuasiveness of your objections (or response to an objection).
What is an example of a time a lawyer impressed you?
Many of the lawyers in the Upper Peninsula handle criminal cases on both a retained and an appointment basis. I am continually impressed when I see no difference in the quality of effort and work those lawyers provide for both types of clients. I also appreciate when a lawyer puts the best interests of his client ahead of his own by being completely candid with the court. For instance, I once had an attorney admit that he made a mistake and provided inaccurate information to the client during plea bargaining. This admission of error entitled the defendant to withdraw his plea. Finally, the compassion of criminal lawyers impresses me. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys confront significant social hardship and sadness in the criminal justice system. Many times, a victim or defendant has little to no support system, and the attorney might be the only advocate for his or her interests.
What is something interesting you do off the bench?
I enjoy cooking, and to offset the calories I also enjoy trail running and playing sports with my girlfriends. Because the soccer season is short in the UP, I helped to form the International Women’s Floor Hockey League, which is a total of 20 awesome women who play with plastic pucks and sticks in a local school gym.
Is there anything else you would like Michigan lawyers to know?
I worked at ICLE as a cite checker while I was a law student. I turn to ICLE resources even now when I’m handling a matter that I have not handled in a while.